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Island County commissioners at odds over word, retreat

Paul Dziedzic may have his work cut out for him.

The Island County commissioners hired Dziedzic, a consultant, to facilitate a retreat with the three members of the board on Feb. 9, but he may find a political divide in the way of progress.

While the commissioners will talk business, Dziedzic indicated that he hopes the session with also help break the ice between the three women. Because of rules about public meetings, he pointed out, much of the communications between the commissioners is limited to the unnatural dialogue of public stage.

Discussions on the board have been somewhat stilted since Commissioner Kelly Emerson took office at the beginning of the year. Emerson is the only Republican on the board, and as a Tea Party member, has been very critical of the Democratic commissioners in the past. During the commissioners’ meeting Monday, an odd exchange highlighted the void between the commissioners.

Emerson said she didn’t like the word “progressive” being used in a job description. In context, the word was used to mean “increasing” or “continuing,” rather than politically liberal. But she said the word had been “bastardized” and she would steer away from applying if a job description used the word.

The other commissioners agreed to change the word, but appeared dumbfounded.

“I’m astonished by your comment,” Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said, shaking her head.

“I thought you might be,” Emerson responded.

In addition, Emerson was clearly not excited by the prospects of a retreat, though it will be only four hours long and held in the commissioners’ room. The commissioners suggested they might call it a “work session” instead since there will be no flights to Hawaii.

Budget Director Elaine Marlow said it will cost the county $500 to hire Dziedzic for 10 hours of work. The money is already set aside in the commissioners’ 2011 budget.

Monday, Emerson said she wasn’t sure she was “on board” with discussing goals at the retreat. She said her main mission is to change county government; she said she’s talked to a lot of residents since taking office and there’s “a lot of disappointment with local government.”

“I’m just kind of going along and seeing how this one works out,” she said, referring to the retreat.

Price Johnson was frustrated with Emerson for criticizing without offering solutions. She urged Emerson to be specific about what issues she has so they can be discussed at the retreat. Emerson said she’d let her know.

Dziedzic also questioned Emerson about what she would like to discuss or accomplish. She said she didn’t know and that the retreat was “your guys’ gig,” referring to the other commissioners.

“I’m sorry, it is not ‘our guys’ gig,” Price Johnson said, clearly exasperated. She said Emerson is a member of the board and should participate in solving problems and making decisions.

Commissioner Angie Homola suggested that a retreat may be necessary for educational purposes. She said one of the commissioners, who she didn’t name, has major misunderstandings about the budget and somehow thought that the commissioners had spent $4.2 million in reserve funds. That’s the amount commissioners cut from current expense funds.

Also, Homola defended the county and said the past board of commissioners got an amazing amount of work done in the midst of the budget disaster.

In the end, Dziedzic suggested that the commissioners could spend time discussing a proposed reorganization of certain smaller departments, then move on to other issues.

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